Sunday, March 15, 2015

Arendt and Community

After Marx, academics had a serious issue:  they had to build on his work without referencing it.  This isn’t all that different from the difficulty academic psychologists had with Freud.  Freud talked goofy and it sounded silly when you were writing grant proposals.  Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is the latest attempt at building a rational sounding justification for talking therapy. Sounds like a prissy version of Freud to me. 
With Marx the difficulty was much more immediate.  One citation and your funding disappeared.  Poor Keynes had to throw in Calculus and talk all the way around his fulcrum to say that if you wanted to keep the game going you had to grab money away from the winners and keep the losers in the game.
Sociology hung onto its journalist roots; that shred of honesty kept it halfway decent.  But then they threw in statistics.  The real ugliness was when they coopted Marx’s use of the word alienation.  Alienation meant losing you inheritance, your position in your family.  Marx with his German sense of humor used it to describe tradesmen working an assembly line and no longer owning their tools. 
Marx was trying to answer Adam Smith’s division of labor by giving examples of its destruction of people’s self-worth.  The only way out Marx could see was for people to take advantage of their forced collectivization to form unions. Communists would later take his description of farm people forced into factory work as a prescription for collectivization with disastrous results.
Sociologists grabbed the alienation word to describe people’s loneliness in society.  Loneliness is a real issue but to say you are alienated from society is nonsense.  You are your society.  If you are not yourself, then who are you? Once they had a specious issue the only thing left is a solution viola: community.  A meaningless duality, what could be more perfect for writing grant proposals.
When the baby boom sent a hydraulic stream of undergraduates hurtling into academia, those of a more idealistic bent had the idea that sociology had something to do with solving people’s problems with society.  Let the punishment fit the crime.  Forced to undergo and regurgitate meaningless prattle to then enter the ranks of the unemployed it is hardly surprising that so many terrorists have sociology degrees.
So it is discouraging that Arendt’s discussion of Revolution finishes with talking up the committees that form in the developmental process of government.  My own experience with boards and associations is bad.  It always ends with wondering why all these people hate me.  Successful committees are to purpose and transitory.  Standing committees are deadening.
I dusted off Revolution because of all these demands demanding that Occupy Whomever come up with demands.  Since any agenda becomes the basis for repression we are left with this Dadaist movement. It’s not enough to have a silent majority, now they have to be inarticulate as well.  Columnists keep trying to link Occupy Wall Street with the Tea Party.  The fundamental distinction is that the Tea Party hates poor people and OWS doesn’t want to become them.
Arendt argues that political process can’t solve economic inequality.  With Marat Sade thundering in the background I believe I understand her argument.  But until the messiah comes we have to scrape around and stall off the inevitable savagery predicted by Marx, sort of an American expression of Mao’s perpetual revolution.
Despite the insurance and drug companies, Americans have, as definitively as we ever have, made it clear that we want health care.  We can’t all live in hotel rooms surrounded by Mormons. We recognize that our individual health depends on the health of the population, and by the way, mental health is infectious.  Usually at this point the majority is respected.  Instead we are confronted by these statesmen who are determined to keep the poor out of the middle class. The Tea Party archetype is a franchise owner, SBA loan in hand.
What everyone seems to agree on is that our current process sells too cheap. We’ve played this game for over two hundred years and either our standards have raised or the bosses have wired it too tight. For instance everyone knows drugs should be legal; what chance is there of that? Everyone understands that the process is failing, yet no one states the obvious conclusion:  it’s time for a rewrite. The Constitution was predicated on protecting slavery.  It is unfair to us to maintain those advantages.
The greatest criticism of representational government is the toll it exacts on candidates.  What person wants to beg hundreds, thousands, even millions of people for their job? The whole process was conceived and designed to keep politicians snugly and securely in the hip pockets of the owners and manufacturers. Sociologists sometimes study the dynamics of power, the personalities and character of leaders.  They usually are trying to prove that individuals can surmount social process. What they don’t consider is that most leaders belong to someone else and they couldn’t accomplish anything otherwise.
There are two other possibilities: plebiscite and lottery.  As Ross Perot said, plebiscite has recently once again become practicable.   Just as we maintain online bank accounts we could maintain an online voting account.  The proposal of new initiatives could be made sufficiently onerous through petition and consideration. The lovely thing about plebiscite is how auditable it is.  Perhaps we could have a third house of congress.  It would represent the people’s will directly. 
Lottery has the advantage of making corruption more difficult.  You have to bribe the official after they have been selected.  Executive lottery is perhaps the best way to organize an underground movement, or one subject to oppression, making it more difficult to take over.
I think chance should officially be reintroduced into the court system. Litigious parties, or even criminals, should have the option of flipping a coin or rolling dice.
America was founded on the idea of checks and balances. I don’t think we took that far enough.  In particular our military adventures are out of hand.  I propose that we assign our military functions to that third house of congress whether plebiscite or not.  If it is elected I don’t know what the divisions should be, perhaps something different from geographical.  We could give this house its own funding; control of natural resources should be enough money. The idea is that this house would manage our natural resources and foreign affairs.  Maybe this could be the new function of the House of Representatives and the plebiscite would cover the domestic issues, with the Senate over both.
Claiming to be an honest politician reminds me of claiming virginity in a bar. I’ve always been upset with the small sums that congressmen receive for influence.  Committeemen in Chicago get more money for zoning variances than Congressmen get for billion dollar spending bills.  Separating out the foreign policy and natural resource issues would remove the hypocrisy and put Congress on a realistic footing.  Having the entire nation vote on domestic spending authorizations would be a useful restraint.       
There are other possibilities: the Senate could be chosen by lottery for fixed terms of longer duration, similar to the Romans.  This would isolate political parties to the House and Presidency.
 I haven’t figured all this out. It’s going to take those wretched committees, hopefully for a limited period of time, to do that.  It will not be perfection, but as a measure, it should be a lot more difficult to conduct imperialist adventures, a lot easier to make drugs legal, TARP would have failed a referendum, the jobs bill would have passed, and Supreme Court judges would be a lot more discrete about being on the take.
In any case, the bar has been raised.  When my congressman returns to the district and says they don’t have the votes, I’m going to want to know why they didn’t shut down the government.  I take my issues at least as seriously as anyone else takes theirs.

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